BBI: What Exactly is Kenya’s Building Bridges Initiative?


Its Genesis

In 2017, president Uhuru Kenyatta and main opposition candidate Raila Odinga met again at the ballot for a face-off in the bid for the next president of the Republic of Kenya.  Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner but the results were disputed, claims of election rigging were made by the opposition leader Raila Odinga.

The matter went to the Supreme Court that ruled that because of the irregularities, the election was overturned and the second round of voting ordered. This happened on 26th October 2017, and shortly after, Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner and president for his second and last term.

Historically, elections in Kenya are highly divisive and sometimes deadly. 2017 was no different and after the repeat elections, tensions were high for months.  So in March 2018 Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga agreed to put together a team to find a way to end such instability in the future, the agreement was symbolically captured in what is popularly referred to as the ‘handshake’.

A task force was set up and named the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). The task force was to look at nine issues - including ethnic antagonism, corruption, and devolution - which were highlighted as the greatest challenges facing the Republic since the country became independent in 1963.

But what exactly is it about?

The Building Bridges Initiative is proposed Constitutional reforms that seek to amend the 2010 Constitution of Kenya.  The proposed Constitutional Reforms affect Chapters 2,3,4,6,7,8,9&11.

But here are 3 of the most critical changes BBI is proposing for Kenya’s politics.

  1. BBI wants to resolve issues of divisive elections.

The proposed amendments to change Chapter 7 seek to;

i. Enhance the transparency and fairness of representation in the electoral system.

ii. Reform the management structure of the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

iii. Promote electoral competition based on ideas, values, and our shared humanity rather than the common-enemy identity politics that have defined our electoral cycles to date.

iv. Promote gender equity in governance by actualizing the Constitutional provision of the two-thirds Gender Rule on the elective and appointive office.

v. Mandate that the electoral system is to comply with the universal principles of fair representation, equality of the vote, and the requirement that the IEBC, in setting constituency and ward boundaries, should progressively work towards ensuring that the number of inhabitants in each constituency and ward is, as nearly as possible, equal to the population quota.

  1. BBI wants to restructure the top government

Changes to chapter 8 on the Legislature would do the following: Remodel the Parliamentary system by bringing the Government back into the House, including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, the Attorney-General and the Leader of the Official Opposition, being the person who was the runner-up in the Presidential election. That’s a major change.

Changes to chapter 9 on the Executive would expand the national executive to mitigate the drawbacks of the winner-take-all electoral formula. This recommendation, therefore, proposes the introduction of the office of the Prime Minister and two Deputy Prime Ministers. It also provides that Cabinet Ministers may be appointed from among members of the National Assembly. The Committee makes this recommendation cognizant of the provisions of Article 77(1) of the Constitution of Kenya which bars state officers from receiving emoluments for more than one role.

The BBI also proposes an increase in legislative representation. It proposes that there be 94 senators, an increase from the current 67 with every county expected to elect a male and female representative. The 47 positions of county woman representatives will be scrapped should the BBI proposals be made into law, while members of the National Assembly will increase from the current 349 to 360.

You can read the full report here:[1] The BBI Full Report.

The Cost  of BBI

BBI has, over the months, had strong criticism. Those opposing the Constitutional reforms think it is too soon since the passing of The current Constitution. This year the Constitution of Kenya will be turning 11 years and still has several challenges that it has never been fully implemented. The Constitution took Kenya 20 years to draw up and passed with the focus on centring the people of Kenya.

A notable advocate of #RejectBBI and is very vocal with #LindaKabita (loosely translated to mean protect the Constitution) is Martha Karua.  Karua is a former Minister of Justice and the NARC-Kenya party leader. She also vied for president of Kenya in 2013.

She has used and continues to use her platforms to state that The BBI project is a return to autocratic rule, to an imperial president who is not accountable to parliament and a parasitic model of government.[2]

To implement the BBI proposed constitutional reforms, parliament must endorse it and then a referendum held. The IEBC (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) estimates that the referendum will cost Sh 14 billion, this figure is likely to go up as the budget is subject to refining.[3] That is all taxpayer money, that some have strongly opposed for various reasons such as, the COVID pandemic, the Kenyan doctors strike and other urgent social crises that could use the additional funding. 

Unfortunately, critics feel that we are already over-represented, and whereas a ‘Big Government’ would be to the benefit of the ordinary person, political expediency has been the largest beneficiary. Economist Ms Odhiambo said “Unfortunately, a bigger Government has not resulted in improved welfare of citizens. The opportunities for the commoner for employment and access to resources are still a tall order”. [4]

Young Politicians and the BBI.

Across the political landscape, we have young politicians voicing their opinions on BBI. Some young politicians in elective positions are pro-BBI. It is said they are forecasting the 2022 elections and the hope that proximity to power will guarantee them re-election. Some of these politicians do command a large social media following, for example, Babu Owino MP Embakasi East, Johnson Sakaja Senetar, Nairobi County  and Jaguar MP, Starehe. 

Young politicians opposing BBI are using social media as a medium to educate the public on why they too should oppose BBI. Boniface Mwangi, a notable activist and politician  argues that the ordinary citizen pays the price for all this over-representation.

Silantoi Suzzanna, who vied for elective office in 2017 to be the Senator of Nairobi is using her social platforms to educate the public on what BBI means and why in her opinion it is not good for the country. 

A young upcoming comedian and digital activist known as Esther Kazungu, is a rising star and is creating funny content but at the same time delivers food for thought. She is resonating with the younger demographic in Kenya.

On the ground, it is felt that the BBI will pass. The next step is for the Bill to be tabled in Parliament. Kenyans are divided on the BBI issue, however many do feel that the Constitution of Kenya 2010, has lacked political backing and full implementation. So will a referendum change this?

[1] BBI Official Website.

[2]Martha Karua  What #LindaKatiba is and why it matters?

[3]Edwin Mutai IEBC projects Sh14bn BBI Referendum Budget

[4] Dominic Omondi

BBI’s Big Governemnt: Curse or Blessing for Kenyans?


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